Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holocaust guilt and shame surface once more in Lisa Kirk Colburn's GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN AND THE DREAMING CHILD

Welcome to Austria, birthplace of Adolf Hitler, of (by extension) The Holocaust, and much later of artist Gottfried Helnwein. During the course of GOTTFRIEND HELNWEIN AND THE DREAMING CHILD -- the new documentary from filmmaker Lisa Kirk Colburn, Herr Helnwein, a successful artist of our current times, reminds us that young Adolf was also an artist and that the Viennese art acade-my's rejection of him (evidently, he needed better drawing skills) was history's worst mistake. After all, who know what might have (not) happened, had Hitler found some earlier success?

The Holocaust, it would seem, accounts for Helnwein's choice of subject matter -- the ever-present child, together with the betrayal of innocence. As his reputation and his work have grown, Helnwein came to be chosen as the production designer for the Israeli Opera's 2010 production of famed (and late) playwright Hanoch Levin's The Child Dreams, a new opera to be based upon Levin's popular play. In her new film about all this, Ms Colburn, shown at right, gives us some relatively interesting glimpses of what transpires as the opera makes its way from conception through execution.

As collaborators, Levin and Helnwein would seem to be ideal, even if one of them is no longer available for input, and so the movie appears to be taking on the subject of the "making" of collaborative art and how this occurs. We see the clash over the question of the use of an actual child in the lead role or the more usual route of casting a short and young-looking adult. (In any case, an adult will have to do the singing, as no child's voice would be up to the demands of the opera's score.)

Control is also paramount to Helnwein, as it is to some others -- like the lighting designer, who tends to work from intuition, while Heln-wein wants to know and see what he will be getting right now. We're offered bits and pieces of a lot of things, from Levin's original tale to a little of the music and lyrics, the sets and even a look at some of the cast members. If you don't know this play or opera, however (as I certainly don't) not a lot will resonate -- even though Colburn tries to connect it all via Helnwein's child-centered work.

It's not that we don't understand what is going on -- of course we do -- but it all remains a little too diffuse for more than cursory interest. Toward the end we leave the opera almost entirely to go back to the artist's earlier work, a piece called Selektion,(a defaced section of which is shown at left) that has quite a Holocaust connection and perhaps will be used again in marketing the opera. (Or not -- I was unclear just how these two things related,)
Ms Colburn is a relative newcomer to film and documentary, so I wonder if simply a filmed version of the opera itself might have been more effective and interesting, or perhaps a movie that concentrated more on the artist, his history, and a larger selection of his work? Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Child falls midway between the two and seems less effective because of this.

TrustMovies does admit that he knew absolutely nothing about anything or anyone in this documentary before sitting down to view it, and afterwards he came out knowing a lot more than he did going in. So he'll give it that, at least.

The film, from First Run Features and running just 72 minutes, opens this Friday, November 23, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Elsewhere? There appears to be nothing scheduled as yet, but, as they appear, you can see all upcoming playdates here.

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